Las Vegas and the Australia Connection


There’s a unique bond between Sin City and the Land Down Under…

Thanks to casino developer Sam Boyd and his trio of downtown properties, the people of Hawaii have forged a strong relationship with Las Vegas. The FremontMain Street and most especially California hotels are dependent on regular tourism from the Island State, and they cater to the culture in a variety of ways.

Restaurants serve Hawaiian favorites, staff wear island-style shirts, and Hawaiian retailers like ABC Stores and Lappert’s Ice Cream have locations Downtown. Signs throughout Boyd casinos even proclaim “Aloha Is Spoken Here”.

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        Olivia Newton-John at the opening party for her residency at the Flamingo…

On the other side of the equator, the continent of Australia has also formed a bond with Sin City. While not nearly as defined, there’s an undeniable connection between the folks from Down Under and the City of Entertainment. Let’s take a look at a few examples, and perhaps uncover why such distant locations are joined by an invisible highway of travelers…and why so many people relocate from one place to the other.

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   Perth’s Andrew Gill welcomes guests to the Mike Hammer Comedy Show at 4 Queens…

For Andrew Gill, it was the lure of magic that drew him to Vegas. Then 19 years old, this native of Perth flew across the Pacific to attend the World Magic Teen Mentoring Seminar by legendary Lance Burton. Things turned out so well that Gill remained and worked his way up to becoming production manager for Mike Hammer Comedy Magic.

Andrew stayed with Hammer’s team a few years until his work visa expired. Before returning, the ambitious young Aussie had developed relationships with fellow magicians Murray SawchuckDavid Copperfield and of course, Burton. Now a successful realtor (with his own magic act to keep things fun), Andrew returns annually for the MAGIC Live Convention at Orleans Hotel.

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     Human Nature gives Mike Tyson some love at the opening night of JUKEBOX…

Since this city thrives on sex appeal, it’s only natural that the legendary handsome men of Australia would come here to seek fame, fortune…and steaming hot billboards. Outback rancher Aaron Michael Lucey relocated here to become a successful choreographer and performer.

In addition to various other musical productions, Aaron was dance captain for Thunder From Down Under, the long-running Aussie-themed male revue at Excalibur. That was followed by Chippendales spin-off 53X and more recently Masters of Illusion.

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         Aaron Micheal Lucey traded a saddle for the excitement of the Strip…

Three years ago, the upstart Aussie Heat opened downtown, quickly expanding both the show and their audience in the larger V Theater at Planet HollywoodAussie Heat achieved the number one spot for Vegas productions on Yelp. Ninety-three percent of audience ratings are at five stars, so the risky plan for bringing a brand-new, er…brand to Las Vegas seems to have paid off.

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations                                       Tommy (far left) with the cast of Aussie Heat…

You may remember the guest article penned by former Aussie Heat dancer Tommy Harvey aka “Tommy Gun” (pictured above, first row far right). Tommy detailed what it was like to move here from Australia. Despite undergoing a bit of culture shock, it wasn’t long before the striptease artist/athlete was feeling right at home.

Former Aussie Heat CEO Jono Weinstock explained the appeal of Vegas stages to Australian entertainers:

“As a performer, this is the pinnacle of achievement…being able to perform so many nights and shows a week. Back home, maybe once a week if lucky. It’s the pinnacle of entertainment, too — a big bold fun adult playground. Parties, gaming, pools, DJ’s, shows…”.

Weinstock was also quick to point out a few of the many positives that Sin City offers for Australian tourism:

“It’s a 15 hour flight from L.A., so we only get big-name performers once every 20 years in their careers! (There’s) cheap shopping also. We pay three times as much for everything down there. The outlets are a winner..and the Aussie dollar at times has been very favourable…now not so much, but shopping is of huge value.”.

Chippendales joined the Aussie-hunk popularity wave by recruiting dancer Ryan Stuart, who was widely promoted as their first member from Down Under. Stuart’s looks, talent, and super-sexy accent aided in him becoming a regular host for the show. After an onstage injury, Stuart returned to Australia but takes back with him a lifetime of experiences.

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              Hit-maker Kylie Minogue cuddles with fellow Aussie Ryan Stuart…

Ironically, Ryan’s fellow Chippendale host Russel Francis chose the opposite path, leaving the stages of Vegas for those of Australia. The handsome singer/dancer from Jacksonville Florida, who had starred in Planet Hollywood‘s PIANO MAN and VEGAS! THE SHOW was riding a career high when he decided to make a big change.

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Former Vegas performers Russel Francis (center) and Ali Francis (far right) bring a little taste of Vegas to the Australian Olympic team in Queensland…

Francis won the affection of a Vegas! The Show audience…and his co-star/future bride Ali…when he proposed to her onstage at the end of a performance. After the honeymoon and lots of traveling, Russel decided to head to Australia for a chance to audition for Ricky Martin on their version of The Voice. A year after going through the audition process, he made it to the finals and worked with legendary singer Seal.

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                       Russel and myself after one of his Vegas performances

Russel sees a definite connection between Las Vegas and Australia:

“I’ve traveled for about five years straight, been to six continents and hundreds of countries. Australia is by far the closest country to the U.S. They actually call Brisbane ‘Bris-Vegas’.

I asked Russel if Australia’s similarity to the United States eased his transition…and if he was welcomed by native residents:

“They have welcomed me with open arms. Everyone has been so friendly and helpful. I’ve been booked on all kind of gigs because everyone loves that I’m here. If I get on the show (X Factor) and do well then we might be here for awhile”.

The people of Las Vegas clearly have open arms for Aussies as well. Take note when you attend a show here and the performers ask audience members “Where are you from?”. Chances are, there will be a large and rowdy group of Aussies, all having a great time together.

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              The Australian Bee Gees celebrate all things disco at Excalibur…

And why not? It’s great to feel welcome when you’re so far away from home. And Aussie visitors are bombarded by advertising for Australian Bee GeesHuman Nature, and previously for Olivia Newton-John. But if they ever feel lonely, there’s a community group dedicated to Australians who have relocated here.

Currently, no casino has followed the California‘s lead and dedicated their marketing directly to Australians (Excalibur comes close with the Thunder/Australian Bee Gees line-up). And this writer has yet to find a restaurant that specializes in lamington and pavlova.

But as the bond between these two cultures continues to grow and strengthen, don’t be surprised if someday the MGM Grand restores their Oz theme with a new twist….and the Rainforest Cafe re-opens as the “Koala Diner”.

Photos: Sammasseur, Russel Francis/Ryan Stuart/Tommy Harvey/Aaron Michael Lucey via Facebook, LIGHT Nightclub/Australian Bee Gees via Facebook

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Moving To Vegas: Expectation vs. Reality


A guest author shares his year of living in Sin City…the great and not-so-great…

Tommy Gun came to the United States to perform in the Aussie Heat male revue. Having lived the Sin City life before returning to his native Australia, he now reflects on his experiences and if they met his preconceived notions of Las Vegas.

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations

                       Tommy (far left) with the cast of Aussie Heat…

We all have expectations. Let’s be honest. We all carry preconceived ideas about new experiences and sometimes they turn out fantastic. Sometimes it just really sucks. G’day everyone, my name is Tommy. I’m from sunny Australia and I lived and worked in Las Vegas for one year. I did as much as I could and experienced everything with an open mind.

“A little bit of everything” I said to myself, because after all it is Vegas, and you have to go ALL IN. When my working VISA was finalized for the USA, I couldn’t have been more excited. My initial thoughts of Las Vegas were fast food everywhere, casinos, flashing lights, millionaires on every corner, HOT weather and nothing to do but drink and gamble.

Boy, was I in for a surprise! Luckily for me, I worked as a dancer for the Aussie Heat show (then known as Aussie Hunks) inside Planet Hollywood Casino. I was blessed with the opportunity to meet many incredible people and experience the ‘real’ Las Vegas.

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       The luxury apartment complex I shared with other members of the cast…

The Food – 

Expectations:

My first thought was I would find it hard to eat healthy. I was concerned there would be junk food everywhere I looked, and eating out would mainly consist of burgers, chips, burritos and everything that is delicious yet naughty. I didn’t think I would find much cultural variety of food to be honest.

Reality:

Wow! What can I say? I’ve never been so wrong. Vegas had a little bit of something for everybody. If you dig deep enough and talk to the right people, you can find food gems!
I was able to eat healthy and also indulge in the naughty foods too.

I’m a “cheap and cheerful” kind of guy. I like good deals, delicious food and generous servings. Nothing too fancy, just a ‘good feed’ is what I love. So for me it was the 24/7 diners that really take the cake. I’m going to mention two of my personal favorites.

Ellis Island – Village Pub Casino Cafe
Just a five-minute walk off the strip, you will find a small casino that frequents the locals. It’s charming yet excessively noisy. The cafe has some of the best food deals you can get. I ordered the ‘NY steak and eggs’ special at least 4 times a week. It only cost $5.99 at the time (11 pm-11 am) and is an ‘off the menu’ deal that only locals know about. Thank me later!

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                          Ellis Island NY Steak and Eggs special is only $5.99

Silver Sevens Casino – Sterling Spoon Cafe
It’s not the most popular casino, but the cafe sure gives you a great deal on the prime rib. Service was okay. Atmosphere? Not that amazing. Do I care? Absolutely not! Like I said, guys, I just enjoy good, satisfying grub, and you can’t go past Silver Sevens with a happy appetite. Try the prime rib meal for only $9.99. It’s great value with good portions. Not the best rib you will ever eat, nor will it be the worst. It’s just a great bargain.

I’ll quickly mention a few other absolute winners you can find:

Holstein’s Shakes and Buns – for the best thick shake in Vegas (and I’ve tried many). Creamy, cold and smooth silky texture just melts in your mouth.

Samba Latte – If you’re a coffee lover like myself and enjoy a good latte, then there is no competition to this world famous cafe located just outside the Monte Carlo Casino. Expensive but worth it. (Editor’s note – Samba Latte is currently closed due to ongoing renovations at Monte Carlo/Park MGM)

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations

The stylish interior of ‘Samba Latte’ adds to the hipster vibe of this successful cafe.

Quality of Life

Expectations:

The Millionaires’ Playground is what Vegas is portrayed to be in films. Flashing lights, glamorous girls, limousines, pool parties and lavish lifestyles. I expected to see a well-structured city with a stable economy and plenty of employment for everyone. Since it’s the world’s playground with millions of dollars flowing in and out every year, I thought the everyday locals would have a relatively comfortable income.

Reality:

I was shocked to see how the majority of Las Vegas people were living. Let me share with you a few stories of my experiences. Before our show moved to Planet Hollywood, we were based in the D Hotel Casino on Downtown’s Fremont St. On this particular day, we all had a few hours of free time before the show started so we decided to go work out at the gym.

Upon arrival we discovered the gym was closed for some unknown reason. A bunch of Aussie blokes being our optimistic selves, made the decision to venture by foot into North Las Vegas suburbs to find a playground in which we could do pull ups, calisthenics, etc.

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations

Walking through the suburbia streets, I have never felt so unsafe. We must have stuck out like sore thumbs because we got stares everywhere we went. The neighborhood looked like a scene from Boyz n the Hood. Broken windows boarded up, cracked roofs, rubbish in the front yard, old beaten-down cars, neglected lawns and doors barely hanging on by the hinges.

We found a park and exercised for about 30 minutes before a bunch of ‘gang-banging’-looking kids appeared from the shadows near the basketball court. It looked as though we might have intruded on their ‘turf’. It was at that point we all decided it was a good time to leave, and I’m glad we did because it certainly wasn’t a place we felt welcome.

The day we went for a photo shoot at a studio located near the Stratosphere Casino, I was stupid enough not to pack lunch with me. So during our lunch break I was forced to walk to the casino for a meal. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The houses around and just off the famous Las Vegas Strip were absolute dumps!

Not only was suburbia a shocking sight for us to see, but the poverty extends right next to the tourist hub. Every now and then I would walk past a house that was literally falling apart, yet the car in the driveway would be a brand new Ford F-350 (or something similar) with shiny new rims and tinted windows. If that isn’t a clear signal that a drug dealer lives there, then I don’t know what is.

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This apartment complex located right behind the LINQ Casino was on my walk to work every day. We all called it the “Kitchen Tiles Complex” because of the terrible exterior design.

Things To Do – 

Expectations:

To be honest, I didn’t think there would be much to do In Las Vegas besides drink, gamble and watch the odd Cirque show. My expectations didn’t really extend past there. I set the bar low, and I was genuinely worried I would be bored quickly because I’m not a drinker nor a gambler.

Reality:

I can happily say that I was never once bored during my whole year working in Las Vegas. That’s not an exaggeration…I literally always had things to do. Maybe It was in part due to me being in a show and surrounded by people in the entertainment
industry.

I personally think Vegas has a plethora of activities and entertaining things to do regardless. In my one year as a resident, Vegas surprised and invigorated me enough that I still miss the city to this day. We all know casinos have all kinds of entertainment, ranging from theater shows and shopping to themed bars. But there is a lot to be said about other parts of Vegas besides the obvious.

Brooklyn Bowl –

As a group of dancers, one of our favorite pastimes would be seeing live music at the Brooklyn Bowl. This modern venue which hosts live music, bowling, beer and food is the ultimate night out for those who want a little bit of everything. What I enjoyed most about this venue is the variety of music they had. On a Wednesday you might
see a soul band, Thursday a punk rock band, then on Friday a hip-hop artist. I found myself checking their website every week to see who was playing.

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations

Lake Mead –

Sometime it’s nice to get out of the city for a little bit, and with the beautiful crystal clear Lake Mead only a thirty-minute drive from Las Vegas you can’t go wrong. Wake-boarding was my activity of choice, and when the average summer temperature can reach
104 F, there nothing better than the feeling of fresh cool water on your skin.

Sometimes the pool parties just won’t cut it, especially when you’re not in the mood to deal with drunk obnoxious people and overpriced drinks. There are also a host of other water activities to choose from and the scenic backdrop of the desert mountains just tops off the real American-style landscape you expect to see as a foreigner.

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations

A picture I took at Drai’s Beach Club, and a still from a video of my fiancé wake boarding at Lake Mead. Which do you prefer? Personally, I will take Lake Mead any day

ATV Tours –

As you can see, I’m a lover of extreme activities and outdoors adventures. So it’s no surprise I’m also advocating these super-fun ATV tours in the Las Vegas desert. Seriously, what better way to see the incredible Nevada landscape AND experience an adrenaline-rushing activity?

The more I Googled “things to do in Vegas” the more I found! I couldn’t have been happier with the variety of entertainment options for all kinds of people. So much for “only drinking and gambling”. It turns out Las Vegas has so much more to offer. If all you do is sit at slot machines when you’re in town, then you’re doing it wrong! You need to start living life!

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                    My fiancé and I on an ATV tour in the Vegas Desert.

The Grand Canyon –

I feel compelled to finish off my outdoor activity rant by advocating the incredible and vast Grand Canyon in Arizona. Yes, it’s nowhere near Las Vegas, and it’s not even in Nevada, but it’s something you HAVE to see! Words can’t describe how amazing this mile-deep geological wonder is.

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If you decide to go, see it either when the sun rises or the sun sets. It’s simply a magical experience when the light captures all the crevasses and ridges of the canyon as the sun moves across the horizon.

The drive to the Skywalk is only roughly two hours. The entrance to the National Park where you can test yourself with a day trek is only a four-hour drive. If you don’t like to drive, there are many helicopter companies that offer tours over the Canyon at affordable prices.

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations

                      Taking in the beauty of Grand Canyon national park.

The People

Expectations:

Having not known much about Las Vegas, I expected to see mostly white people…overweight and very loud. Why? Because in my experiences with Americans in Australia, that’s usually what I saw. It was more of a subconscious expectation and not something that I premeditated.

Reality:

Much can be said about people anywhere in the world. There is good and bad everywhere you look. I would like to talk about one aspect of the Las Vegas people that genuinely surprised me. The variety was astonishing.

There were people from all walks of life. I discovered that Las Vegas not only had white people, but also a huge Latino population, African Americans, Asians, Europeans and even Islanders. I may seem naive to you, but I did not expect this magnitude of cultural variety. Las Vegas seems to to bring people from all over the world, and I think if you live here long enough you are blessed to see, meet and talk to many people with all different views on life.

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations

Being part of the Aussie Heat show’s cast, I had to opportunity to mingle with the audience after the show and get photos etc. The thing I enjoyed most about this was meeting the people from all over America. I was learning about people from North Carolina to Oregon. From all different backgrounds, religions and cultures, I learned that America is such a diverse place.

I believe many people in Australia fall into the trap of generalizing the people in California as ‘all of America’ because that’s usually all we see from Hollywood films. The truth is, the people from Texas to New York couldn’t be any more different!

Casinos

Expectations:

Having seen films such as The Hangover, Ocean’s Eleven and What Happens in Vegas, once again I had the Hollywood perspective of casinos. I expected lavish lights, cocktail waitresses, fancy interiors and the lure of the ‘High Roller’ lifestyle.

Reality:

I have mixed emotions here. There are some things I love, and some things I hate about the main attraction to Las Vegas tourists. Yes, the films were pretty, accurate in my opinion. The casinos really are an adult’s playground with a little bit of something for everyone, but there are definite drawbacks.

I simply couldn’t get enough of the Cirque du Soleil shows. Simply amazing…jaw dropping. I clapped until my hands hurt. If I had enough expendable income I would have seen every Cirque show, but alas I could only see two – Zumanity and . Tickets are expensive, but when you witness the amazing performances and life-threatening stunts, you understand why.

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations

              Backstage with the cast of KÂ. I’m at the back, trust me!

Most casinos boast successful shows, millions in revenue from gambling and shopping, amazing decor and nightclubs packed to the brim. You would think these places make a killing, and they do! However with all the millions of dollars in revenue, there are certain casinos that charge for parking! Say what?

At this point do you really need to suck every single cent out of your loyal (sometimes gambling-addicted) customers? I think it’s sad. And I would think if parking was free (like it is in most places), your customers would appreciate it and return more often (resulting in better profit over the long term).

With that aside, I LOVE the attention to detail in the aesthetics of both the interior and exterior of the buildings, with special mention to Venetian, Caesars Palace, Bellagio and New York NY. They represent the intended themes perfectly. Having personally traveled to Venice, Rome, Lake Bellagio in Italy and New York City, I can safely say that the decor did each location justice. I didn’t feel as though they were a cheap rip-off, but more of a homage to the intended locations.

 

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations

                             The fabulous New York NY casino exterior… 

However, once inside, my spirit became a little dampened by the people occupying it. I feel as though Las Vegas, while fun for adults, should not be a place to bring your children on holiday if you are gambling. Let’s be honest here, most parents coming here are spending lots of time on the casino floor.

Imagine taking your beloved dog to the beach, but instead of letting him swim and run around playfully in the waves, you keep him on a leash and sit on the walkway chair texting on your phone. Bringing your kids to Vegas is just as bad.

Moving to Vegas Reality vs. Expectations

     The ‘Pitbull’ concert I attended at Planet Hollywood – he did an amazing job!

I’m glad I chose to work for one year in Las Vegas, It’s been one of the best choices I have ever made. All in all, Vegas really surprised me and taught me lessons I would never have learned otherwise.

If you haven’t been to Las Vegas yet, you simply must go at least once. It’s a city full of surprises.

Tommy Gun has returned to his native Australia and now operates his own entertainment company – Gold Coast Male Strippers. You can visit his website for more information, pictures and videos. 

Photos: Tommy Gun